Who is the real Ramaphosa?

John Kane-Berman says the DP's stated commitment to the NDR precludes a reform agenda

South Africa's deputy president, Cyril Ramaphosa, hit most of the right political buttons when he addressed the 14th national congress of the South African Communist Party (SACP) in Boksburg last week. And he was rewarded with headlines such as "Ramaphosa on the warpath" against looting, state capture, and corruption.

According to some news reports Mr Ramaphosa "left no doubt" that those involved in state capture, including President Jacob Zuma, would be prosecuted  –  not "if " he became president, but "once" he got the top job.

In addition to denouncing the Zuma regime, Mr Ramaphosa said that "we cannot advance transformation to any meaningful extent unless we create employment on a massive scale, particularly for the youth". To achieve growth, "far higher levels of fixed investment" were necessary.

This was a speech aimed at mobilising political support, so Mr Ramaphosa could hardly been expected to enter into the political minefield of explaining in any detail what should be done to encourage more investment. Instead, he urged the SACP congress to "provide crisp, clear direction, on the urgent measures we need to take to reignite growth and create jobs". The SACP will be happy to oblige – although Mr Ramaphosa helpfully reminded them that economic "wealth, power, and control" was concentrated in mainly white hands.

Given his audience, it was natural that Mr Ramaphosa should also have reminded them that both the SACP and the African National Congress (ANC) were "inextricably bound to the success of the National Democratic Revolution" (NDR). This is the blueprint for socialism and black nationalism adopted when both parties were still in exile, and which forms the leitmotif of policy and legislation since they came to power in 1994. Among its key components are radical redistribution of income and assets, racial preferencing, and cadre deployment to capture all centres of power.

A bow by Mr Ramaphosa in the direction of revolutionary policy was de rigueur for the SACP congress. Given the pressures (not yet triumphant, as it turned out) within the SACP to enter the lists against the ANC in the 2019 election, this was not the occasion to mention the ANC's National Development Plan, which is hated on the Left. But Mr Ramaphosa endorsed the National Democratic Revolution (NDR) no fewer than four times. Was his purpose to warn the SACP that any repudiation of its alliance with the ANC would undermine the NDR? Was he mainly concerned to burnish his revolutionary credentials?  Or does he personally remain as strongly committed to the NDR as ever?

Although Mr Ramaphosa is sometimes seen as a great reformer, he has seldom said anything that suggests that he is not a true believer in the NDR. So it is odd that virtually none of the enthusiastic press reports about his speech to the SACP congress made any mention of his repeated references to the NDR. Headlines such as "Ramaphosa warns SACP not to jeopardise NDR" or "Cyril declares allegiance to NDR" would have been justified by the content of his speech. 

By now, most political commentators and other journalists see Mr Ramaphosa as the great hope to displace the Zuma regime. Fortunately, the Internet makes the full text of politician's speeches easily available so that the power of journalistic gatekeepers and aspirant kingmakers to shape public opinion by selective reporting is limited in ways that did not apply in the past.

This column has previously pointed out that the mainstream media and most on-line commentators have long ignored the NDR. Yet without the NDR policy of using cadre deployment to capture all centres of power, "state capture" is unlikely to have happened. If Mr Ramaphosa is able to oust Mr Zuma, he will do the country a great service. But his renewed endorsement of the NDR at the recent SACP congress suggests that he may be much less of a reformer than many people would like to think. 

* John Kane-Berman is a policy fellow at the IRR, a think-tank that promotes political and economic freedom. His memoirs, Between Two Fires - Holding the Liberal Centre in South African Politics, were recently published by Jonathan Ball.